A lesson in branding from the Titanic

Think back for a moment to the scene in Titanic when the ship hits the iceberg. The initial impact didn’t look all that bad, certainly not enough to bring down the unsinkable Titanic. But we all know how the story ends. The damage under the surface was too great; its fate was sealed.

And what exactly does that have to do with branding? First, let’s dig a little deeper into what really defines a brand.

The term “branding” gets thrown around a lot these days. I often hear from clients that they want to rebrand or freshen up their current brand. After a conversation about their real goals and objectives, I find that what they really want is a new logo or an updated stationery suite – a makeover of some visual representation of their brand.

So if a logo isn’t a brand, then what exactly is?

A former supervisor of mine explained branding as an iceberg (the Titanic reference is starting to make sense now, huh?). Ten percent of branding is what you see (the ice above the surface that caused the Titanic crew to jump into action) and 90 percent what you don’t see (the ice below the waterline that eventually sank the ship). The visuals, including your company name, logo and advertising, are only a small part of your brand. The other 90 percent are the intangibles, including customer service, employee morale and leadership.

While well-designed visuals are a must for any successful company, it is important not to forget about what lies beneath the surface. Brand experiences are the things that are critical to building and sustaining a positive brand image.

Think about your favorite retailer, soft drink or shoe maker. What keeps you loyal to that particular brand? Sure, they may have a stylish logo or a catchy advertising campaign, but is that what makes you a loyal consumer? More than likely, it’s that they’ve established a pattern of good experiences with you. No line at the check-out counter, consistently good flavor or shoes that hold up to the mileage you put on them. It’s the pattern of positive interactions that keep you coming back.

So what’s the bottom line? Impactful visuals that cut through the clutter of competition are essential to the success of your business. But that isn’t enough to keep your business afloat. Keep the experiences and intangibles top of mind because neglecting what lies under the surface can sink even the most unsinkable brands.